Today in Feminist History: “The Best Hearing Suffragists Ever Had Before Congress” (December 7, 1913)

Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.

No Sunday rest for National American Woman Suffrage Association National Board members or the 48 State representatives who are spending today busily planning what to say to President Wilson tomorrow at the White House.

Alice Stone Blackwell

The meeting has become even more important amid a growing consensus that three days of testimony before the House Rules Committee, beginning last Wednesday, has probably failed to persuade enough House members to establish a permanent and separate Committee on Woman Suffrage.

Having such a committee would greatly aid in advancing the Susan B. Anthony (woman suffrage) Amendment. But even though the Rules Committee took no action to establish this new committee, and it’s unlikely that there will be a House vote on the matter this year, everyone is taking pride in both the number of fine speakers who testified for the cause and the quality of their testimony. According to Jane Addams, it was: “By all odds the best hearing suffragists ever had before Congress.” She feels certain that the goal of “Votes for Women” has been greatly aided by those who presented such a strong and articulate case.

Some of the Congressional testimony was quoted in prestigious newspapers with wide distribution, so the words of the speakers went far beyond a few members of Congress. Among the many points made by Alice Stone Blackwell were that the “antis” have never been able to prove that more than 1% of the nation’s women are opposed to suffrage; that suffragists had organized in 47 of the 48 States, the “antis” in only 17, and that the progress which had occurred in recent years would never have come “if cradles had not been rocked or had homes been abandoned.” To the repeated charge that woman suffrage would weaken and possibly destroy marriage, she submitted statistics to show that the marriage rate had actually increased in States where women have won the vote.

When given their turn, the “antis” denounced woman suffrage as unnecessary, opposed by women themselves, and of no use in attaining equal wages. They saw any Federal action as a violation of “States’ Rights,” linked suffrage with the Prohibition movement, and called voting a “burden” on homemakers which would interfere with their spousal and maternal duties. Two speakers from the Guidon Club went so far as to portray any support for woman suffrage as playing into the hands of “radical forces” out to overthrow the Republic.

It is hoped that tomorrow President Wilson will be more sympathetic to the calm, rational arguments in favor of equality and justice made by advocates for our cause than was the House Rules Committee.


David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.